Headdress returned home after 50 years

A ceremonial headdress has been returned to its traditional owners after making the journey home from halfway across the world.

Having spent at least 50 years in the United Kingdom, the headdress was returned on Tuesday to the Lardil people, the traditional custodians of Mornington Island in Queensland.

The headdress – made of a cone of bark, wound with a string of human hair, painted with ochre and adorned with emu feathers – is traditionally used in performances and during ceremonial occasions.

It was worn in public performances by the late Philip Jack, a member of the Lardil Dancers who performed at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973.

In the 1970s Mr Jack gave the headdress to his neighbour Maurice Routhan as a farewell gift when he left Australia for the United Kingdom.

In recent years Mr Routhan has wanted to return the gift to its owners in Australia.

Lardil representative Lawrence Burke says the headdress represents the totem of the rainbow, which only an officer of the law could wear.

“This return is important because Mr Jack was an elder, a cultural man, a law man, and an important song man for this place,” he said at the repatriation ceremony in Canberra.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies oversaw the journey of the headdress from England and ensured its safekeeping until it could be returned to the Wellesley Islands community.

CEO Craig Ritchie says the return of cultural heritage items to Australia is a challenging task AIATSIS embraces.

“The repatriation of national treasures further demonstrate the depth and diversity of First Nations cultures in this country – cultures that predate most other civilisations,” he said.

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